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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, December 16, 2004; 1:00 PM

Who is likely to become the chairman of the DNC? How will President Bush govern during his second term? Who is to blame for the lapses in the Bernard Kerik nomination?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions on the campaigning, the candidates and last night's debate.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Terry Neal: Hello everyone. Good to be back with you for my regular weekly chat. It's been a fairly interesting week in politics--for this time of year, anyway. I look forward to taking your questions.



Columbus, Ohio: Hi Terry,

Your people made an inadeqate and belated start in your essay regarding alleged vote fraud in Ohio this past presidential cycle. I was here on the ground and saw first hand many things wrote about in the article, and many far worse. My question to you and your paper is this: "When is the Post with its reputation for hard hitting investigative journalism going to agressively pursue this story?" You should talk to some of the people at Move-On or Vote-Mob in Columbus who witnessed hundreds of provisional ballots systematically denied to voters. You should talk to observers and facilitators at the OSU's Ohio Union that witnessed hundreds of first time voters systematically disenfranchised by 'poor planning'. While your at it, why don't you do some investigation of who bought millions of radio dollars in advertising? Did that money really come from rural parishes? Wasn't Ohio issue 1 a state issue? Who is entitled to contribute? Or how about researching why there is no FCC audit of Columbus television ad-buys? Why do some of the stations seem to have incomplete records? There is far more than wishful thinking behind my "conspiracy", this is a crime with thousands of witnesses. We have no voice and we feel its time you exercized yours a little more. My European friends have never been so happy to be able to go home to a democracy.


Terry Neal: Well, you pack a lot in there. I think I'd answer it by saying that the paper has done some good reporting about what happened in Ohio. And the conclusion from all of the credible reporting I've seen here and elsewhere is that there were problems in Ohio, but nothing to the extent that would have changed the outcome of the final result. I'm sure there will be more reporting on this subject, so perhaps there is more to come out on this subject. We'll see.
I think reporters have asked a lot of the questions that you are asking. But you seem to be upset that the Post and the media in general haven't reached the same conclusions that you have reached.


washingtonpost.com: Several Factors Contributed to 'Lost' Voters in Ohio (Post, Dec. 15)


Columbia, Md.: Could you comment on the Stop Dean Movement. For a lot of us, Dean put some backbone in the Democratic Party this cycle else we would have had Bush versus Lieberman.

Terry Neal: There is a feeling among many Democrats that Dean is damaged goods right now. Not everyone thinks that's his fault. Certainly his primary opponents, particularly Lieberman and Gephardt, did as much as they could to tear him apart. But whether it's Dean's fault, or the Gephardt's fault, or the media's fault, some Democrats believe he is just not the person to lead the party right now.
Of course, when Dean was governor of Vermont, he had a reputation as a moderate. But his reputation now is more of a northeastern liberal--fair or not--and apparently some Democrats believe that's just not going to fly right now.
On the other hand, Dean supporters make a good case that he has almost the singular ability to fire up a lot of Democrats right now. But the question is will he turn off an equal number of people at a time when the party absolutely has to expand to survive.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi Terry:
Happy Holidays to you. Stu Rothenberg had a fairly interesting column recently about Barak Obama, basically saying that, before we annoint him the savior of the Democratic party lets let the guy get his feet under him as a Senator. Rothenberg also referenced a somewhat controversial voting record in the State Senate that, had the GOP put up a credible candidate, might have swung some support away from Obama (wether it would have been enough to beat him obviously remains unseen). My question, I guess, is this: do you think that Obama is on the verge of suffering from the same phenomenon that befell Howard Dean: that is the media building him up just to break him down.

Terry Neal: Thanks for your very astute question. No one really knows, of course, what the future holds for Obama. I do tend to believe that it rarely helps politicians in the long run to be overhyped. The Congress if is full of egomaniacs from both parties who will be resentful of the attention he has received. Washington is full of aggressive reporters who'll be watching every little move he makes and latching onto even his most benign missteps. Also, the masses still no little about him, other than the speech he gave for Kerry at the convention. As soon as he starts voting in Washington, he'll lose some of that support. It is the nature of the business he's in.
Even still, I think most politicians would rather enter a new realm with the sort of publicity he has received than not. The only question is, will he use it to propel his star or flame out in the heat. We'll see.


Ogden, Utah: OK I'll bite -- who IS to blame for the mess around the homeland security nomination -- is the White House really so clueless they had no intimation of this guy's past? Doesn't anyone there care about someone who keeps two mistresses on the side? Even Guilani didn't go that far, settling for one at a time. And where are our values these days?

washingtonpost.com: Analysis: On Kerik Nomination, White House Missed Red Flags (Post, Dec. 15)

Terry Neal: Interesting question. I think there's plenty of blame to go around. My understanding is, Kerik was not as forthcoming as he should have been in interviews with White House counsel.
But I think it's also clear that the White House rushed the announcement, making it before the FBI had concluded its background checks.
The fascinating thing to me is that the White House knew about some of this stuff, including the the fact that he allegedly cheated on his mistress. (I would like to make some jokes about that, but let's just keep it professional here...)
The White House apparently concluded that Kerik's bootstrapper bio would overshadow some of these more personal issues. And I think they were willing to take the chance that the senators (many of whom let's face it shouldn't be throwing stones) would not be eager to grill him with infidelity questions during the nomination process.
I think there's a recognition in Washington that there aren't too many perfect people out there and everyone has some skeletons. But typically, you have to be very careful about appointing people with this much stuff to law enforcement and security posts because of concerns about blackmail and that sort of thing.
It's a fascinating story.


Kingsport, Tenn.: Terry, without a doubt in my mind the new DNC chairperson should be from the south or midwest. A person who could identify with the whole of the country in a moderate way and still keep with the basic Dem tenets and show a positive agenda without the far-out radical groups who so rile the general electorate is a must. Who would fit this description?

Terry Neal: There are a lot of people who would fit that mold. The problem is, who fits the mold AND wants the job. There are people out there like Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (who's already said thanks but no thanks), former Dallas and Denver mayors Ron Kirk and Wellington Webb, respectively. Former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer is name being kicked around.
I think someone like Kathleen Sebelius, who the Democratic governor of one of the most conservative states (Kansas) could be interesting, although I haven't really heard her name mentioned and I'm not sure whether she'd be interested.


Northern Virginia: What is your opinion on Bush's awarding of Medal of Freedom to Bremer, Franks and Tenet? I think Bush cheapens the value of this award. It is meaningless now because none of the three deserved it. They should be despised rather than praised. Bremer for the miserable misjudgements during his 'reign' in Iraq, Tenet for the 'slam dunk' misinformation, and Franks for meekly going along with whatever Rumsfeld said.

washingtonpost.com: Bush Gives Medal of Freedom to 'Pivotal' Iraq Figures (Post, Dec. 15)

Terry Neal: Well, I think the of the three, the biggest question would have to be about Tenet. It was Tenet who passionately sold Bush on the Iraq WMD theory, telling him, according to Bob Woodward's book that it was a "slam dunk."
You could question Franks's and Bremer's records in Iraq. And yes, they were very powerful men. But ultimately, they were two guys sent over there to follow orders and do what they were told under very difficult circumstances.


Waconia, Minn.: How much hot water is Sec. Rumsfeld in? I've read a lot in the last day or so -- most of it critical -- but isn't the President's opinion the only one that matters? How long can we expect the trashing to continue?

washingtonpost.com: Opinion: William Kristol -- The Defense Secretary We Have (Post, Dec. 15)

Terry Neal: Well, as long as the president continues to stand by Rumsfeld, he's in no hot water at all. Given the way Bush operates, I would think that sacking Rummy now would look like an admission of failure and the stakes are too high to do that.
But there's no question that Rumsfeld's glow has been greatly diminished. After all, much of the braying about him is coming from Republicans, not Democrats. That has to diminish his effectiveness, which in turn could have an impact on the administration.


Terry Neal: Well folks, I've got to run. It's been a pleasure as always. I look forward to chatting with you again next week. Talk to ya then!



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